Reading: Out of Hiding pt. 2 (Ep. 54)

And finally, here's the second half of the first chapter of Out of Hiding, one of my novels.

I shovel food into my mouth before Jenn even sits down again. After a few attempts at conversation that all result in nothing—shrugs, nods, grunts—Jenn sits silently, and we enjoy the lasagna. On days like today, I appreciate how easy it is to be around Jenn. Yes, her perfection makes me look even more pathetic. But there’s no judgment. And if I don’t feel like talking, she doesn’t push. She hangs out with me, letting me enjoy her company without forced social interaction.

After dinner, I throw the dirty plates into the sink with a mental note to clean them later. I’m already half sure I’ll find an excuse, push them off for a few days. I wish I were better at actually doing what I set out to do. Jenn tells me I’m the most interesting juxtaposition: a perfectionist and procrastinating chaotic. A terrible combination. Drives me up the wall most days. I need everything to be clean, tidy, and organized but can’t get my ass in gear to get anything done. And if something’s already out of place, it gets easier and easier for me to add more chaos on top, so the only chance I have is to stay disciplined and never let it get dirty in the first place. Guess how that’s working out so far.

I lean back against the kitchen counter. Sigh. My apartment is a mess, as always. It’s not really bad by any means, but I hate all the little things that never get done: the stack of documents I need to file away on the counter. Dishes in the sink. Crumbs all over the kitchen. Dust mites in the nooks of the room. Shoes thrown haphazardly behind the door instead of into the shoe rack. None of it should be a big deal, but each and every one of the issues gnaws on my sanity—and together, they actually make a dent.

I throw myself back onto the couch a little too hard. My head knocks against the wall behind it. I wince, and Jenn’s laugh turns into worry at the pained expression on my face—not about my head but about me. I’m not usually one to get knocked over by a bit of pain.

“Not your day?” she asks gently.

I shake my head. My brain hurts at the motion. “Not really. It’s just one of those days. Everything I did today turned into a fucking mess.” She raises an eyebrow at the swearword. Really, she should be used to them by now.

“Are you okay?”

I grimace. I am so not okay but don’t know where to start. I sink back into the cushion—carefully this time—and draw my legs close.

“I mean, except for burning your dinner.” She adds hesitantly.

“I”m a fucking failure!”

“You are not a failure,” she says with a kind expression. The sheer amount of kindness makes me think she’d be a better mother than the one who raised me. At some point, she’ll set up a swearing jar.

“I’m not? Look at my fucked-up dinner.” Another flinch from Jenn. “I can’t even feed myself. Without you, I’d starve or live on sandwiches. And Barbara... Barbara is driving me insane. It’s like no one gives a shit that I went to university for six damn years. Six fucking years!”

Working hard to ignore the ongoing onslaught of swearwords, Jenn leans back on the couch, pulls a knee into her chest, and hugs it with her arms.

“What did she do this time?” she asks, and it’s not the sarcastic response most people who have listened to me rant and rant about my boss and my job would give me. She actually wants to know, no matter how often I am troubled by the twisted relationship with Barbara. She has heard this rant a million times. Still cares.

“I’m sitting there all day. Fucking monkey work. She doesn’t even appreciate it. It’s like I’m not good enough. She and my mom would get along splendidly. They should have a little tea party or whatever and talk about how inadequate I am and how I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do with all the high fucking expectations they had for me. I don’t even get what’s going on with Barbara, for fuck’s sake. One day she’s super-nice. The next, she explodes. I don’t get it. Usually, it’s worst when I didn’t do anything wrong.

“No clue what she wants from me. I—I—Today, I worked on her damn bloodwork for seven hours. Seven full hours of repetitive bullshit. I just stare at the machine. Label shit. Transfer from one vial to the next. A monkey could do it—well, a monkey with magic. It’s super boring. She doesn’t need me to do it. She could have her assistants do it. That’s what she hired them for. But no, instead, I sit there all fucking day and do it because she doesn’t trust me with any real work. She doesn’t let me do any of the things I was hired to do.

“I’m a glorified fucking assistant.”

My voice has risen to almost a yell. I take a deep breath. Conscious. In. Out. I force myself to stop the endless spiral of anger.

In a calmer voice, I continue, “Anyway. I did the work. I even asked her actual assistant if there was anything else for me to do. I checked the lab like seventeen more times for anything left to organize or clean up. You know how much she cares about a tidy lab. Pedantic. Then—and only then—did I start working on my own research. I was supposed to be able to do that whenever there’s nothing left for her shit. It’s part of why I started the damn mentorship thing. Learn from brilliant Barbara and work on my research. And I’m so close to figuring it out. I know I am. But then Barbara comes in and starts yelling her head off how I am wasting time on my project when there is more to do for her.

“It’s not like I went to work and just started dallying around and worked on my shit when I felt like it. No. I did my job. I did what I was told to do. I handed it in. And then I went to work on my stuff. I’d have stopped the moment someone told me they needed me. No, not good enough. Never good enough. Never.

“I should’ve asked her. You know full well that if I had dared disturb her majesty in her office to ask, she would’ve exploded that I was wasting her time instead. It doesn’t matter what I do. Wrong either way. It’s just fucking infuriating. I don’t know what the woman wants.”

“I don’t think she does,” Jenn says patiently.

I give a groan of frustration and almost hit my head on the wall again. A movement by the bedroom door catches my eye. My mood softens when Mimir slinks around the corners of the room and jumps on the couch. When his mind touches mine.

“Ah, there you are. No longer hiding from my cooking skills?” I ask while scratching the fox between his pointy black ears. The mere presence of my companion raises my mood. “He didn’t like all the smoke and noise,” I explain to Jenn, who is already scooting over to give Mimir some scratches.

“Can’t say I blame him,” she laughs. Self-doubt creeps back in along with a pang of annoyance. I know Jenn doesn’t mean it in a bad way. She doesn’t even judge me for my poor cooking skills. She just accepts them as part of who I am.

“I know it’s not fair what Barbara is doing,” Jenn says hesitantly. I know she’s scared I’ll start yelling again—along with my usual density of swearwords.

“It’s not!” I already feel my temper rise again despite Mimir’s presence. Mimir’s mind envelops mine, sends calming emotions.

Jenn cuts me off before I can get into another rant. “It’s not fair, but it’s necessary. You need her at the moment. You have less than a year left in your mentorship.”

“Seven months,” I interject. I might have a calendar on my wall counting down the days, but I won’t mention that to Jenn. She already thinks I’m crazy.

“Okay, seven months then. Just stick it out. Let her yell at you. Let her do what she needs to do. Finishing a mentorship with her will open up so many opportunities. Everyone will want the first trainee of the Dr. Barbara Willems.”

I groan again. “I know. I know! It’s just—I feel so unappreciated. Just like with my mom when I got all those amazing grades in school, and she didn’t give a shit. Now it’s the same with Barbara. I graduated top of my class in Magical Biology. I graduated top of my fucking class in Psychology. I did two top-of-the-class degrees, and no one gives a damn. My mom doesn’t care because it’s not politics or sociology—the only two subjects that matter in her worth. And Barbara doesn’t care for whatever fucking reasons Barbara doesn’t care. I mean, yeah, some days she does. Some days she tells me how good I am. How she wants to give me more responsibility. Fucking Jekyll and Hyde.”

“I know, love. I know.”

She has heard this rant so many times she could probably give it in my stead. But still, she sits and lets me talk.

“It’s just—I can’t.”

Knowing that there is nothing left to say without yet another circular rant, I put my head in my hands. Jenn pulls me into a hug. Mimir licks my fingers, nudges his little nose at my hands. The first sob comes, and then the tears. Before long, I wail into Jenn’s side until the tears run dry. When I finally look up, Mimir licks the salty water from my face. Jenn looks at me with more understanding than I can handle. I avoid her gaze. She waits for me to completely calm down. No words, just company.

“You are good enough, honey. You are! It doesn’t matter what your mom or Barbara thinks. You are good enough. Listen to me.” She pulls my face up—no choice but to look directly into her green eyes. “You are good enough! You might not know how to cook without setting fire to something. But you are ridiculously good at everything else you put your mind to. You didn’t get those degrees for nothing, and you know it.”

“I’m a failure,” I repeat but with less resolve.

“Shut up!” Jenn’s words make me look up in surprise. “Shut up” is about the height of swearing for Jenn, and it is this more than anything that makes me calm down. A smile pulls on my lips, and I can’t continue steaming with a grin on my face. She smiles back. She knows she’s done the trick.

“Okay,” I admit begrudgingly.

After another few moments to ensure I’m done, she asks, “You said you were close to finalizing your research. How close are you?”

I don’t dare believe it myself, to be honest. I’ve worked on this project for two whole years. No progress. Until today. Yes, there had been a few promising discoveries, but nothing ever led anywhere.

“I think I know how it works. Just haven’t had the chance to test it yet. It’s—It has something to do with the way I think about magic. It’s a matter of shifting my mind. I just need to change my mental approach. Good thing I studied fucking Psychology for this shit. But, yeah, the general idea is a simple shift of mind patterns. I mean, there’s nothing simple about it, but the idea is simple. It’s hard to describe.

“There are a million ways for people to first get a grasp of their magic: some think of rooms, others of colors. Yet others think of their entire body as vessels, and the magic flows through them like water. All of them are just patterns to help describe what’s hard to understand—a bridge.

“When I first started learning about magic, my mentor told me magic is a flame I need to spark and nurture. At first, my magic would flare up without control. Die down to almost nothing. I had no control. It took months to fully master it. When I did my research, I started with the same mental image. That didn’t work. Today, I dropped a cup on one of the candles in the break room. It clicked. I realized it’s easier to extinguish a flame than to vanish it. So I tried it. I imagined water, and something shifted inside me. I felt different.

“And you know how much Mimir wants to roam free that late. The tattoo usually itches like hell at that point. It stopped the second I did it. And his presence on my mind became almost undetectable—like when he’s far away. I think I’ve got it. I don’t know. I need more time for this.”

I curl up like a couch.

“That sounds really good!” I can hear the excitement. When I look up, her eyes glitter with it, and I know she’s eager to see me succeed. She has followed this project for as long as she’s known about me. About what I am. It would mean that she could show me her world. Rides on her horribly intimidating motorcycle. Movies. Explain to me how the hell her latest favorite video game works. She keeps telling me about them, but as I disturb her console and TV, she can’t show me.

Being able to enter her world is part of why I want this so much. It’s not why I started the project, but it helped keep me motivated. Every time she beams with excitement about some secret in a video game gives me another push.

I originally started the project to not end up like my parents. I didn’t want to be secluded in a small village. Middle of fucking nowhere. I wanted to be able to travel (though planes sound scary) to walk through big cities without making the lights flicker. Now, I might be able to do that.

I feel a big yawn coming and fight it but to no avail. Jenn’s face falls a little as she declares that I’m tired. “We’ll work on this together. Tomorrow.” After all, it is Thursday, and the weekend is just around the corner.

She leans over Mimir and nuzzles her face against his, one front paw in each of her hands. He stretches onto his back, lets her dig her face into his belly. Minutes later, she gets up and turns to leave, but not before pressing a kiss onto my forehead. “Good night.”

I look at the door long after she closes it. My eyes droop. Too tired to keep them open. Mimir nudges my hand, begs for more pets. I playfully throw him to his side.

“Let’s go to bed, you little beggar,” I whisper as I bury my face in his fur. His warmth draws me closer to sleep. Comfort. I almost give in and fall asleep right there. He nudges me again, and with a heavy body, I get up and fall into bed, clothes and all. Mimir yawns a cute little yawn, sharing my tiredness, and curls up next to me.

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.